Sand in the Gears

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The written pages

December 6th, 2010 Posted in Faith and Life

I took some time off writing here because I didn’t have anything to say. The truth is I went through a spate of those long, dark soul-nights, the kind where you don’t sleep except for a few snatches of time, and always you feel either feverish or dead, and mostly you wish you were the latter, except that when you really are content with death I suspect you sleep much better.

And the thing is, I’ve gotten to where I don’t feel like I can write any of that out, not here, not with my name on the front door. This is what happens when enough people know you face to face, which in my case means they know only pieces of me, because I’ve only ever been open with a handful of people I can see. When people only know pieces of you they tend to fill in the uncharted places, which means you’re either a saint or a goat, depending on what they need you to be.

When people think you’re a goat, you hesitate to scribble out whatever might be on your heart or buried deep in your gut or maybe just shadowing your soul, because you second-guess how it will be read, and what it can be crafted into.

When people think you’re a saint, you get afraid to disappoint them.

This is why I write fiction. Truth comes more easily in that domain, for the writer and the reader. At least that’s how it seems to me. If you write a story in which a man feels as if the whole earth has shifted beneath his feet, so that no good thing is fully good any more, so that waking feels like a trap being sprung and death seems at once too far off and visible where it was once a rumored shore, then, when a fussy reader wants to contradict your man’s theology, or assess his psychology, you can tell your reader to write his own damn story.

Fiction brings catharsis as well; if someone trespasses on your life, you can give him a pot belly and a skin rash and make his brakes fail at a busy intersection. If things seem broken beyond all repair, you can craft a miracle. If you can’t get to that miracle from where you stand, you can erase pages and pages and pages, until you’re back to a vantage point from which peace might be glimpsed.

There’s no erasing pages in this life. But maybe you can look backward, study the progression of your pages, discern how each chapter builds on that which preceded it. There’s no unwriting them, but might there be some measure of grace still, even amidst the brokenness, in knowing how not to write them again? How to put down the pen, and look for a long moment at the dim but unextinguished light of the world, and then write something new, something better?